A former Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, Justice Mustapha Akanbi, and an erstwhile Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Bola Ajibola, said on Friday that the police had enough evidence in the country’s Penal Code to prosecute Farouk Lawan for his role in the $3m bribery scandal.
Akanbi, a former President of the Court of Appeal, said Lawan could be charged based on his statement with the police on the collection of the money from oil magnate, Mr. Femi Otedola,
Similarly, Ajibola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the “court could force Lawan to bring out the money.”
The duo spoke in separate telephone interviews with our correspondents, against the background of the endless drama between Lawan and the Police Special Task Force investigating the matter, on the release of the $620,000 bribe.
Lawan and Mr. Boniface Emenalo had allegedly collected the money from Otedola, to remove the name of his firm, Zenon Oil, from a list of marketers that secured FOREX for fuel import but never applied it accordingly.
Lawan and Emenalo had respectively served as chairman and clerk to a House of Representatives Ad hoc committee that investigated the N1.7trn fuel subsidy scam that involved some oil marketers.
Akanbi said, “I am sure his statement is with the police. If he did admit receiving the money, without making other statements, that statement is enough.
“They can hold him to what he has said. It is an admission that he received corrupt money.
“If they have other evidence to support their case, they can prosecute him on his admission.
“Getting the money is a different thing, but the fact he has admitted that he received the money provides the evidence that he has received some corrupt money.”
Ajibola, a former Judge of the World Court at The Hague, told SUNDAY PUNCH that, “Not only can Lawan be charged with the matter, the court can also force him to bring the bribe money, seize and release it to the owner.”
“The law has all the provisions in the Criminal Act. If the police are prepared to do their job, they can do so.
“Those in the National Assembly who shared in the money or those connected with it can be prosecuted because they all conspired to take the bribe and all those involved can be taken up.”
Other legal practitioners, Dr. Konyinsola Ajayi, (SAN) and Prof. Itse Sagay, (SAN), expressed similar views.
According to Ajayi, the police have powers under the law to retrieve the money, while Sagay said the Penal Code of Northern Nigeria, which covers Abuja, could be invoked against Lawan.
Ajayi explained that such powers included detention and seizing of assets in the process of extracting evidence from a suspect.
She said, “The police know what to do when they are looking for evidence. They search; they detain and may seize assets. And these actions are permitted by law.
“It is the same law; it has not changed. So, it all depends on the police.”
However, Sagay added, “There is a problem with our law; we don’t have provisions for compensation and reparation. There is no provision for reclaiming what has been stolen.
“The constitution is inadequate; it can only punish someone who stole goods but it cannot reclaim the stolen goods from him.
“We need to amend our laws such that the suspect is not only prosecuted but also compelled to make refunds or returns.”
The Deputy Force Public Relations Officer, Mr. Frank Mba, had said last week that the police needed to “gather more evidence on the matter.”
Efforts by the police to retrieve the $620,000 had led the Acting Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, to write the Speaker of the House, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, to compel a member of the House, and the Chairman House Committee on Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Mr. Adams Jagaba to release the money.
Lawan had claimed he gave the money to Jagaba for safe keeping shortly after he collected it; but the lawmaker refuted his claim.
Also, seven other members of the Lawan-led Ad hoc panel had been quizzed by the police in an apparent attempt to establish the movement of the cash, but without success.
The bribery scandal moved several notches above the normal run on Tuesday when Otedola publicly released recorded tapes of his conversation with Lawan, which led to the collection of the cash.
Otedola had claimed that he involved operatives of State Security Service, in what he regarded as a “sting operation.”
But the embattled Lawan said the tape Otedola made public reeked of manipulation and wickedness.
Otedola’s Thursday appearance before the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges, which had earlier quizzed Lawan, further stoked the fire as he rebuffed entreaties to give evidence in camera.
He had argued that since the matter was of public interest, only a public hearing would satisfy him.